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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Toni Morrison, Bob Dylan, John Glenn Among Medal of Freedom Honorees

A big day yesterday for America's leading contributors as novelist Toni Morrison, (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford); singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, former astronaut John Glenn, and others received the Medal of Freedom award from President Barack Obama yesterday in a very well packed East Room of the White House.

Joining them were Madaleine Albright, John Doar, Judge John Paul Stevens, and NCAA women's basketball coach for the University of Tennessee, Pat Summit

Novelist extraordinaire Toni Morrison shares a smile with President Obama.  Photo/CD Brown.
"And I have to say, just looking around the room, this is a packed house, which is a testament to how cool this group is. Everybody wanted to check them out."

Of the accolades given by Mr. Obama to the recipients, he credited one recipient for 'making it possible' for him to become president.

Of civil rights worker and assistant attorney general, John Doar, the president said, "He was the face of the Justice Department in the South.  He was proof that the federal government was listening.  And over the years, John escorted James Meredith to the University of Mississippi.  He walked alongside the Selma-to-Montgomery March.  He laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  In the words of [Congressman] John Lewis, “He gave [civil rights workers] a reason not to give up on those in power.”   And I think it's fair to say that I might not be here had it not been for his work."

Dr. Bill Foege, who helped invent a vaccination for small pox, was also awarded a Medal of Freedom.  He was recognized by the president for his missionary work in Nigeria.

President Obama awards NCAA women's basketball coach Pat Summit. Photo/CD Brown.

"In one remote Nigerian village, after vaccinating 2,000 people in a single day, Bill asked the local chief how he had gotten so many people to show up.  And the chief explained that he had told everyone to come see -- to “come to the village and see the tallest man in the world.”  Today, that world owes that really tall man a great debt of gratitude."

Lots and cheers and applause could be heard for Bob Dylan (Robert Allen Zimmerman), the man who wrote American songs like "Blowin' in the Wind', 'A Fool Such as I', and other popular songs.  His work, known the world over, was hugely popular in Korea, as we were informed by a member of the Korean press whose first White House assignment was on the day Dylan received his Medal of Freedom award.

Recipients of the Medal of Freedom award. Photo/CD Brown.
"My mom listened to him and that's how I got interested in Bob Dylan", he said.  "If you listen to his music, he's really incredible."

His music is popular at the White House too, as a pianist from the Marine Corps band played Dylan's "Don't Think Twice -- It's Alright" song during the pre-ceremony reception.

President Obama with an incognito Bob Dylan.  Photo/CD Brown.
The first 'out-of-this-world' astronaut, John Glenn, the first astronaut to orbit the earth.  He became the oldest person, at age 75, to fly in space.  "On the morning that John Glenn blasted off into space, America stood still", said President Obama.  "...the phones stopped ringing in Chicago police headquarters, and New York subway drivers offered a play-by-play account over the loudspeakers.  President Kennedy interrupted a breakfast with congressional leaders and joined 100 million TV viewers to hear the famous words, “Godspeed, John Glenn.”

 "Everyone on this stage has marked my world in some ways," the president said. "What an extraordinary honor to say thank you for the great work you have done."

Last year's recipients included Bill Russell, Maya Angelou, George H.W. Bush, and Warren Buffet.

Not every ceremony is perfect.  Not every word comes out the way it should.   So it was yesterday when the president honored the 2012 recipients.

While honoring Pat Summit her award, the president mistakenly spoke the words NAACP, instead of NCAA.  Summit coached NCAA women basketball.

Additionally, the president misspoke when referring to Nazi occupation of Polish people.  Poles are infuriated that the president, while awarding Jan Karski her medal, used the term "Polish death camp" instead of "German death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland," supposedly to distinguish the perpetrators from the location.

Remarking last month at a American Holocaust Museum, the president praised Karski saying, "Let us also tell our children about the Righteous Among the Nations.  Among them was Jan Karski, a young Polish Catholic, who witnessed Jews being put on cattle cars, who saw the killings, and who told the truth, all the way to President Roosevelt himself. Jan Karski passed away more than a decade ago.  But today, I’m proud to announce that this spring I will honor him with America’s highest civilian honor the Presidential Medal of Freedom", the president said.

It's been a tough week for Polish people.   Last week, former DC mayor Marion Barry called people of Polish decent, pollacks.  

Polish people say the term is derogatory.

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